Scaling the walled garden of social media

Jack Buckley ClearlyPR
by Jack Buckley

Let’s talk social strategy. At the outset, giants of the trade Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter each operated under a business model that, more or less, operated in harmony with the businesses and people that used it. As time has gone on, however, and these platforms have increasingly looked to monetise their services beyond paid advertisements, we have seen the development of the ‘walled garden’.

In short, this is a means of keeping users within their respective domains. It’s against the best interests of Facebook, for example, to have users visit the site, find something they want to look at, and then immediately leave again. It’s bad for their usership figures and reduces the number of advertisements said users are exposed to; thereby, reducing their bottom line.

It’s a similar strategy to what businesses should be doing. Many times, on a business blog we see links to other interesting content. Whilst in theory, it showcases that the author is up to date with what’s happening in their sector, when not used correctly it drives viewers away from their sites and towards others. What Facebook and LinkedIn are doing is taking that theory and dialling it up to 11.

In mid 2017, The Drum claimed that the walled garden approach shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of business. The issue is that Facebook and LinkedIn have made marketing just so accessible. Business owners could accurately target people they wanted to do business with using user friendly and simple tools. Using these social giants for business was a no brainer… at least until businesses started to go belly up.

Just last week, LittleThings, a female-focussed publisher, announced that it was shutting its doors – in part due to changes to Facebook’s algorithm. The business had generated over 12 million Facebook followers, with videos often generating millions of views. On committing to a Facebook-based business model, however, the company shifted its priorities away from “passively consumed content” with a greater focus on posts from friends and family. The result was a 75% drop in traffic for LittleThings almost overnight.

It goes without saying that this is hugely damaging for businesses that have relied on Facebook’s structure – a configuration that is now changing.

So, what’s the solution?

With businesses quite literally forced out of their market due to their questionable reliance on external businesses good graces (without being subject to the same antitrust competition rules as Google to rein them in) there would appear to be two major courses of action. The first, to cultivate a Facebook-centric presence, as demonstrated by LittleThings, fully opting in to their walled garden business model. The second – to knock out some holes.

In their webinar announcing the algorithm shift, Facebook broke it down into four key components:

  • Inventory – the content available
  • Signals – considerations about the content
  • Predictions – considerations about the person
  • Overall score – a ranking of the post and its likelihood to be consumed

What this means is that Facebook will be ranking posts based on how likely they think users are to engage with them, vastly favouring comments, shares and reactions (active interactions, over clicking, watching or viewing (passive interactions). We’ve now generated our own top tips for success as a result of this.

While posts appearing organically in newsfeeds will indeed be reduced for organisations using the platform, barring a massive shift in strategy, the paid social option is still alive and well. Instead of relying on Facebook for traffic, business owners now need to develop some cross-market functionality – bringing users across to their websites.

Businesses should now utilise Facebook as the tool it is, and not the business platform they wish it would be. Use paid content to encourage sign-ups to newsletters, and announcements for podcasts, for example. Alternatively, drive content to blogs that are hosted outside of social media, helping build an audience not reliant on other business influences for success.

For healthy businesses, this algorithm change will not have diverged enough to sink the ship… but knowing how to make the most of Facebook and other social platforms is vital to business success. Bring your audiences to you, keep them engaged, and provide value… they’re the basics of effective media outreach. It’s time to implement them outside of the walled garden.